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The Last Days of 'The Onion Field' Killers

The Men Convicted of Killing Ian Campbell

By

Gregory Powell

Gregory Powell

Mug Shot
On March 6, 1963, Los Angeles police officers Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger pulled over a vehicle in Hollywood with a broken tail light. The occupants of the car, Gregory Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith, managed to disarm both officers and take them hostage. They drove to a remote onion field near Bakersfield, California where Campbell was shot and killed, while Hettinger managed to get away and run four miles to a farm house to get help.

Powell and Smith were convicted and originally sentenced to death. Their sentences were commuted after the California death penalty was briefly ruled unconstitutional. Smith won parole, but was returned to jail or prison several times due to drug arrests and parole violations.

Powell was denied parole 11 times, including one request for compassionate release after it was discovered that he had terminal cancer. Both Smith and Powell died behind bars.

In 1973, the case became the subject of a best-selling book by Joseph Wambaugh and in 1979 was made into a movie, The Onion Field starring James Woods as Powell; Franklyn Seales as Smith; John Savage as Hettinger and Ted Danson as Campbell.

Latest Developments

Slain 'Onion Field' Officer Honored
March 10, 2013
Fifty years after his kidnapping and murder in an onion field by an ex-convict, a Los Angeles policeman has been honored by the city he served. Last week, signs were posted at an intersection honoring Ian Campbell near the site where he and his partner Carl Hettinger were kidnapped.

Previous Developments

Final 'Onion Field' Killer Dies
Aug. 12, 2012
The man who killed a policeman because he mistakenly thought his kidnapping had violated the federal Lindberg Law has died in prison at age 79. Gregory Powell was the last of two killers convicted in the infamous "Onion Field" murder of officer Ian Campbell in 1963.

'Onion Field' Killer Denied Compassionate Release
Oct. 18, 2011
A 78-year-old California inmate, convicted in the infamous 'Onion Field' killing of a police officer, has been denied a compassionate release by the California Board of Parole Hearings. Gregory Powell has been diagnosed with cancer and has been given six months to live.

'Onion Field' Killer Denied Parole
Jan. 27, 2010
A convicted cop killer whose crime was the subject of a book and movie has been denied parole 47 years after that deadly night in "The Onion Field." Gregory Powell will not be eligible for again for three years, parole officials said.

'Onion Field' Killer Smith Dead at 76
April 7, 2007
Jimmy Lee Smith, who was once sentenced to death for the murder of Los Angeles police officer Ian Campbell in the famous "The Onion Field" case, died in jail at age 76 after another parole violation sent him behind bars again. Smith, a career criminal and drug addict, died at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, California.

'Onion Field' Killer Back in Prison Again
Feb. 27, 2007
Jimmy Lee Smith, one of the two men convicted for killing a police officer in "The Onion Field" case of 1963, is headed back to prison again on a parole violation. Smith was picked up by two patrolmen in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles, after being at large since Dec. 22.

'Onion Field' Killer Back in Prison
June 27, 2005
Jimmy Lee Smith, one of the two men convicted in "The Onion Field" case of 1963 for the kidnapping of two Los Angeles police officers and the murder of one of them, is headed back to prison after admitting that the broke probation by possessing heroin.

'The Onion Field' Killer Busted for Heroin
June 13, 2005
Jimmy Lee Smith, who served 19 years in prison for the kidnapping of two Los Angeles police officers and the murder of one of them in "The Onion Field" case of 1963, may be headed back to prison for possession of heroin while on parole.

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